We have officially welcomed March into our midst. Hello, dear friend, we said. I trust you’ve brought the promise of spring with you?
Yes, said she. But cold remains. Winter, like a bell that rings from the steeple, echoes yet.
And so it does. And so we wait and pull our stocking caps down over our ears and shove our feet into forlorn boots and mumble idly about how we miss the sun.
I admit, even though the UV index of said sun is higher than it was in February, its rays still feel painfully far away and unaffecting. I struggle to find enough gumption to go outdoors, except to feed the chickens (who are also irritated at winter’s persistence) and to gather firewood from the shed. Sparrow, too, loathes being told she ‘has to go outside because it’s good for you’ and will often beg to eat a carrot as an alternative because, in her mind, healthy things are interchangeable.
Once coaxed outside, though, she usually has fun. I will hear her singing to herself or looking toward the river and doing random curtsies, as if the river were her dance partner and the forest, her ever-attentive audience.
On this particular day, she delighted herself in a game of collecting sticks. Snapped off twigs, birch bark and balsam bows, gathered in abundance to make a pretend fire. She was so busy and after an hour, had amassed quite a pile. Clarence, hound dog extraordinaire, had lengthened the process by intermittently stealing sticks from the pile and carting them off to unknown locations.
I watched her, amazed as usual, at how exacting and full her imagination is. Huddled over the pile (singing, of course), she rubbed her hands together and held them over the invisible flames. And if my rational adult brain didn’t know better, I’d say she actually warmed herself.
It was beautiful to witness. And I could have marveled all day at her, her flawless skin glowing in the brilliant light of thin air.
But then I remembered I had a lighter in my pocket. An actual flame-maker. And maybe I should’ve left her to her imagination. Maybe I should have let her alone, let the spark of her mind keep the fire kindled.
But then again. So I sat down next to her and, without a word, let the lighter’s tiny flame ignite a gnarled strip of birch bark. And she gasped. A gasp of genuine delight and together, we sat in the snow and watched the real fire blaze.
I have no doubt the fire in her mind was vivid. But in her imagination, was there a symphony of intriguing sights and sounds? Crackle and hiss of dried balsam needles burning. Twig tips shimmering like gold. Ashy ribbons of smoke rising from the rubble like song. Sharp, stinging taste that catches first in the nose and then in the throat. Heat that reaches out and finds your skin like a kind word finds an anguished heart.
Sentimental, maybe but oh, how good it is to experience the real thing! How much more, the flesh and the bone, over aberrations of the mind.
We sat with the fire until it was gone. And then we went inside. Flinging her coat and snow pants off, she clambered up on the counter and retrieved her poetry journal (yes, she has one) from the cupboard and found a pencil. And this is what she wrote:
We were once cold. So we collected
and collected, sticks and bark
and ideas and soon, it was done.
My mama, with her hands, started
the flames and they burst, orange
on orange and we were very warm.
How I love her. And how I love that, in her mind, I am the fire-maker. Buttoner of buttons, braider of hair, scratcher of itches and maker of flames.
It is good to be viewed through the mind of a child. It is humbling and very, very good. Because truth be told, I’m really not that great. But she sees me through her mind, through her beautiful child-like eyes, the one’s wearing impenetrable lenses of love.
And I’ll tell you what, I know these feeble, erring hands could never coax flames forth, but her love for me makes me feel like maybe I could.
Love is good like that. Love makes spring in all the places winter threatens to reign.
And because we’re a poem writing family, here’s mine:
Slowly, the flames start, tiny tongues
speaking in a hundred languages
of love. How quickly then, until everything
is engulfed. A bright, emotive fire
with heat enough
to cut even the bleakest cold.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35